Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

19 Jan 2007, 10:58 a.m.

Not-So-Durable Goods

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

OK, a few NYT links and then a commentary. Paris and relationships, anorexia and struggle, and Michael Lewis's classic "The Satellite Subversives". Oh, and I'll also throw in Adam K.'s Clifford Pickover parody for no good reason. ("You stomp your right foot in fury, reaching for your cup of delicious coffee. You only drink the best coffee, Jamaican Blue Mountain beans imported for forty dollars per pound.")

So now: "Ordeal by Appliance: Weekend Home Tales" from today's NYT. I had to call Leonard to tell him this line:

Together they collect their clients' complaints like fireflies in a jar until it is bright enough to shine beacon-style in the direction of mainland service providers.

Basically this story is a tale of the New York Times Least Needy Cases, mixed with a "My 3 friends = trend" piece. As Leonard put it, this is a story of people so rich that they own a summer home, and so rich that they buy high-end kitchen appliances for that home -- rich times rich equals megarich. Given that we have a lot of acquaintances, I suggested that we might know someone who has a dacha, and Leonard momentarily thought that Dacha was a brand name.

Now that the desperation of rich people has been brought to light, I figure it's only a matter of time before savvy appliance-service entrepreneurs find a way to squeeze the market with high-end service in summer-home spots at ridiculous prices. Leonard suggested that they charge for travel time, which seems eminently reasonable.

Leonard had another point, though: these people are trying to get old-school high-end country living, which basically requires live-in servants, but we don't really do that anymore in the US unless you're really rich. You can't afford a live-in maid, and you certainly can't afford a live-in appliance fixer. The labor is too expensive and too specialized.

Another unanswered question: Why are these high-end appliances such crap that they're breaking all the time? Possible answers: they aren't actually, it's just a few anecdotes (Leonard); they're shiny gadgets meant more to impress than to work reliably (Sumana); improper use by wealthy idiots (Leonard); installation in creaky old houses with weird pipes, electricity, water, etc. that's not up to code (Sumana); unhealthy patterns of use, like "unused for 9 months then continuously working for 3" (Leonard).

One woman, tired of her Viking dishwasher breaking every December when guests came by, said, "We finally ripped the dishwasher out and replaced it with a KitchenAid." Not only will she get parts and service more easily, it probably won't break as much, even though it's cheaper. Reliability (like usability, and shipping) is a feature! Shouldn't a huge, top-of-the-line investment in a durable good come with top-of-the-line maintenance service that will fly or drive to you to ensure that feature? My coworker's horrible experiences with Mercedes amaze me in much the same way. How can a company invest so much in a brand, then let it slip away in the follow-up?

A last note. From the article:

Consider the extreme plight of second-home owners in Saltaire, N.Y. The village is on Fire Island off the south shore of Long Island.

Leonard's response: "Oh my God! The village is on Fire! Island."